Many years ago, when I was a junior in college, I struck up a correspondence with a sister at Chigwell Convent in England. Actually, she struck up a correspondence with me; I just asked a question. I had asked if I could join the sisters in their missionary work after college for a couple of years. I learned that while I could join them, my student loans could not be deferred for this type of service. I was disappointed to receive the news.
Instead of that notification being the end of the story though, this sister kept writing to me. For over a year, she sent me books by Teresa of Ávila, Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Thomas Merton. I learned so much from her letters and the materials she sent. Although she knew very little about me, the topics she would talk about in her letters and the books she would send would, each time, address a significant question I was grappling with in my spiritual life.
It was a very enriching chance exchange—or so it seemed to me at the time.
Two decades later, my spiritual advisor re-introduced me to one of the same works that the English sister had sent me years earlier, The Sacrament of the Present Moment. The author, an 18th-century Jesuit priest by the name of Jean-Pierre de Caussade, taught the Ignatian concepts of surrender of the will and finding God in all things to nuns in his French province. He advised that each moment of our lives requires us to do our duty, the duty of the moment, and that each moment is precious and holds some divinely appointed purpose. The way to perfection that he offers is simple: offer God our heart and our will, do our duties faithfully, let go of outcomes, and let God surprise us.
De Caussade wrote words that are still so relevant that they seem alive:
You are seeking God, dear sister, and he is everywhere. Everything proclaims him to you, everything reveals him to you, everything brings him to you. He is by your side, over you, around and in you. Here is his dwelling and yet you still seek him. Ah! You are searching for God, the idea of God in his essential being. You seek perfection and it lies in everything that happens to you—your suffering, your actions, your impulses are the mysteries under which God reveals himself to you (The Sacrament of the Present Moment, 18).
He speaks joy to the mundane and purpose amidst chaos. De Caussade urges us to open our hearts and trust that in each plan that doesn’t go according to our hopes, God has something even better in store. He asks us to trust that God uses each moment throughout every day—each encounter, each delay, each meeting, each chore—for a purpose. All that is required of us is that we do each task to the best of our abilities and then trust God to do the rest.
Those who have abandoned themselves to God always lead mysterious lives and receive from him exceptional and miraculous gifts by means of the most ordinary, natural, and chance experiences in which there appears to be nothing unusual…They exist in a state of total impartiality, neglecting nothing, respecting and making use of everything…They never grumble about not having the means to do what they think will advance them because they are supplied in full by their maker (80).
In hindsight, I see that my chance exchange with the English sister may not have been such a chance happening after all. She answered questions I had never penned, and that time of learning became one of the milestones of my spiritual journey. Out of a time of disappointment, God surprised me and provided what I needed at that time. In fact, those moments were exactly as De Caussade had said they would be: each encounter, each moment, was abundant in possibilities and laden with gifts bestowed by the Creator.